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5 Bulletproof Techniques For Pitching To Passive Candidates


One of the best feelings for any recruiter out there is discovering a pool of talented candidates using previously unused tools available to them, whether it be Boolean, x-ray searching, the latest social sourcing techniques or even our free SourceHub tool! Analysing this pool of candidates, you can pick and choose the most qualified ones you wish to reach out to, which brings you to the next step – the pitch!

Your pitch is a critical step in the candidate engagement process because if it does not motivate the person to take the desired action (i.e an agreement to meet for an interview), you lose that candidate and a potential hire. So how can you truly sell your job opportunity in a way that converts? More pertinently, how do you sell your job to passive candidates who aren’t necessarily on the job market? Because the candidates that you find are most likely passive, the purpose of your pitch here is not get a resume, but an appointment for a second conversation. Today, we’re going to show you 5 bulletproof techniques to persuade them to do this!

Technique #1: Use the Power of Emotion

When using your pitch, whether it be via email, inMail or over the phone, it is important you use words that have some emotional valence to the candidate. Persado, a cognitive content platform, have found that emotional language drives approximately 70% of the overall response rate observed in an email marketing message. Too often, recruiters are neutral when writing messages to candidates which works terribly, especially with passive ones. For example, the message below would be considered a very neutral message and does nothing to motivate candidates to respond:

“Hey Johnny, I was reading your online profile. Would you be interested in considering a new role?”

As a recruiter, you need to be much more positive in your messaging such as the example below. This will work much better than the neutral message and will boost the response rate.


NOTE: It is important not to got too far with the positive sentiment though as it can be overkill. For example, “your profile blew me away dude” and “I am LITERALLY so excited to hear more” won’t be well-received by passive candidates. In other words, be a little positive but don’t go too far.

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Technique #2: Less is More

We have said it before and we will say it again: we are living in an attention economy. We have shifted to a world where there is information overload and attention span is really low. With so many companies competing for new recruits, a candidate’s attention has become a valuable commodity. So when they open an email that should belong in the pages of a novel, guess what? They’re going to close your pitch and get back to their day.

Boomerang, an email productivity software company, found in their study that the sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, all of which yielded response rates of 50% and above. A 50-word email is around two short paragraphs, while 125 words is two regular-sized paragraphs plus a short one (typically your call-to-action). Not sure how many words are in your email? Just copy and paste the message to Microsoft Word which will tell you straight away. In your pitch, be sure to use candidate-centric language like “You”, “Your” and “Yours” and close with a very specific call-to-action i.e. asking for a time to chat.


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Technique #3: Ask Questions

When you’re reaching out to a candidate for the first time, it is tempting to tell them so much about the job you are recruiting for and how amazing it is but have you ever thought about asking them some questions? Asking questions, even rhetorical ones, is how you really have a conversation with a candidate, gets your candidate into a more agreeable mindset and helps you pitch best. Boomerang found that 1-3 questions in an email get the the best responses (see below).


When it comes to asking questions, your goal is to get candidates into what psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to as a ‘slow’ frame of mind. For example, a slow frame of mind is characterised by deliberate, deep thinking e.g. when you start learning how to drive a car for the first time. If you can compel candidates to enter a slow frame of mind and you are trying to persuade them of something, there is a much higher chance that they will agree with you.

The best way to do this is be interrogative e.g. ask questions like “What one thing would you change about your current role?” or “If you could work less hours in the work day, what would you do instead?” This makes the candidate think. Your final question in your pitch should always be about the next conversation where you should provide them with 2 options e.g. “Would you be free to talk tonight at 6pm or tomorrow morning before 10 instead?”

Technique #4: Keep It Simple

Speak simply! If you speak simply in the language you use in your emails and conversations with candidates, it is much more likely they will understand you, agree with you and reply to you. We recommend writing your emails at a 3rd grade (yes 3rd grade!) reading level which is a 8-9 year old reading standard.

When you focus your style on keeping the words simple, you are invoking cognitive fluency. Cognitive fluency is something in neuroscience which basically means that if it’s easier to read, it’s easier to process in your brain. If it’s easier to process, it’s easier to persuade candidates to agree with you. Not sure if your emails are easy to read or meet the 3rd grade standard? Test it out with Readability Score which measures and improves the readability and content of your writing. Use simple fonts (Arial, Times New Roman), use words with a maximum of 1-2 syllables and avoid acronyms!

Pitching Readability

Readability Score

Technique #5: Scalable Personalisation

It is essential to personalise every approach you make when pitching to passive candidates! Mass mailing everyone with the same generic message and just changing the first name does not work (see below for a classic example of a pitch that offers little to none personalisation). 


That being said, you have to balance personalisation with scalability. You need to be able to reach a lot of candidates but you can’t take an hour to think about what you’re going to pitch to each candidate. This is where scalable personalisation comes in. How do we personalise our approach with every person but do it in a way that is quick and on scale?

You might have a standard way of approaching someone on the phone or a standard email template you like using but make sure you tick at least 3 of the following points to make sure there is at least some personalisation when contacting a passive candidate:

  • Mention current employer
  • Common connection
  • Current job title
  • Length of time in current job
  • University

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We know that as a recruiter, you are almost forced to adopt a sales approach when approaching passive candidates. Therefore, your pitch becomes an important element when interacting with them. Using these 5 bulletproof techniques will enable you to get more response rates and more second-level conversations.


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